Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag is an amalgam of questions asked about Game 1 of the playoff series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors. You had a ton of questions. These four were the most-repeated.
There were things to love and hate in Game1. I shudder to ask but do you see the glass half empty or half full now?
The Blazers’ success was opportunistic. They thrived off of forced turnovers and hitting contested shots. They rode historic performances from their starting guards to three quarters of an upset. Golden State’s success was systemic. Kevin Durant was a walking mismatch. Their rebounding and three-point shooting were on point. Their second-half defensive adjustments changed the game. Golden State’s systemic achievements will repeat; that’s who they are. Portland’s opportunistic moments may or may not.
If this were the old days and the series was best-of-three, rolling the dice might avail. The law of averages almost always wins out in best-of-seven series. Even if the final margin hadn’t exceeded double digits, even if the Blazers had held on for 40 or 42 or 45 minutes instead of 36, their chances from this point on would be small. The only thing that would have changed the narrative was a win. Even then we might have questioned whether the conditions leading to it would repeat. When we’re questioning whether the favorable conditions leading to a 12-point loss will repeat, that puts perspective on the “glass empty or full” debate.
What was/were the main factor/s in not being able to carry through the win? We played so well for so long. Why close but no victory cigar?
Eric Griffith pretty much covered this in the Game Analysis on Sunday. Both teams featured phenomenal starting guards. When Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum weren’t taking shots, they were passing to Noah Vonleh, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Allen Crabbe. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were passing to Durant.
The Blazers had nobody who could contain KD, as 12-20 and 32 points attest. Portland’s supporting cast shot 12-39, hitting the same amount of field goals in twice as many attempts.
If you want to get even sicker to your stomach, Golden State’s 5th-10th players (not counting Durant, Curry, Thompson, or Draymond Green) shot a combined 10-16. Ian Clark alone scored 12 points, more than Portland’s entire bench.
The problems here go beyond mere point deficit. Why could the Warriors clog the lane in the second half, making their defense look otherworldly? Take a guess. (Actually you get 39 guesses, but only 12 of them are going to hit.)
If this pattern holds—or even if it only improves modestly—the take-away from the series will echo a familiar refrain. You can win games with Crabbe, Aminu, Harkless, Vonleh, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard....you just can’t win games with all of them.
What was your biggest surprise from the first game? It’s gotta be CJ and Dame scoring 75 right? Wow were they really that good!
You never expect the kind of performance the guards put on, but my biggest surprise was how good Turner looked. He’s had moments during the season but his defense was on point and he hit open threes too. It was an eye opener, not just about him but about the difference a smart veteran can make. This game made me an Evan Turner fan.
Can Nurkic make enough difference to help us win? Game 1 was closer than I thought. You have to believe Nurkic would be enough to turn that loss into a win.
Game 1 wasn’t quite as close as it seemed. Think about the difficulty of what McCollum and Lillard did...not just the point totals but the number of contested shots they made. Seeing them shoot sub-40% under those circumstances instead of 57% and 46% respectively wouldn’t be a surprise. Under normal circumstances, such superlative performances should have left the Blazers up by 15. Just tying the score seemed like an accomplishment on Sunday.
Golden State prevailed in a way common to favorites playing huge underdogs. Back in the day when Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter roamed the court, plenty of teams would hang with Portland for a half or even three quarters. The particular quarters in question would vary, but the outcome usually turned out to be a win for Portland anyway. Lesser teams live with maybes and “what ifs” while the better teams collect “W’s”.
The Blazers gave everything they had just to hang with the Warriors, fairly earning their “what if” but not getting close to the “W”. When winning time came, Golden State had gears to spare on both ends of the court that Portland couldn’t match. That’s the difference between the two teams.
Jusuf Nurkic would certainly tilt the balance more towards the Blazers. They needed his rebounding on Sunday. Outside of guard drives, their offensive play at the rim was atrocious. It’s not hard to imagine Nurkic scoring more than the 2 points that Vonleh, Aminu, and Leonard put up combined. But even if he scores 20, keep in mind that you’re still expecting 41 and 34 from your guards to convert that increase into a lead. And not only would Portland need that lead to hold, they’d need to produce it 4 times in the next 6 games to vanquish the Warriors. That’s a lot to ask for.
Yes, Nurkic would make a big difference. The difference required for a series victory is probably bigger yet. But seeing him play would be exciting anyway. It’d make it a different contest, if not a new one. I hope he can play.
Keep those Mailbag questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org! The playoffs are a busy time but we’ll try to squeeze them in!